About 100 work last day at IP mill

Published 9:44 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

FRANKLIN—About 100 people worked their last day at the International Paper Co. paper mill in Franklin on Wednesday.

Among them was Edward Johnson, a welder in the maintenance department for nearly 35 years.

“It was a little sad,” he said Thursday. “It was kind of quiet and dreary feeling. We tried to keep a positive attitude, though.”

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Johnson’s anniversary of being hired at the mill is Sept. 29. And although he was able to retire from IP, he has gone ahead and found another job, at Repair Tech, where he will start on July 12.

“I still had to find something else to do until I get my house paid,” he said.

Johnson’s wife, Melanie, met him outside the factory gates with their grown children, Ashley and Kyle, as he took his last steps from the building at about 8:30 a.m. They then all went on a tour of the plant — her first.

“We just went there to show him our support and our appreciation of all of his hard work over the years,” Melanie Johnson said Thursday. “He really is a hard worker and he can do almost anything and fix anything. He is really smart and took pride in his work.”

She added that she was surprised at how quiet it was at the mill.

“It was a very low-key time,” she said. “I thought it would be more emotional for me, but it wasn’t. I guess it was because we knew it was coming for so long.”

IP spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth said about 100 people worked their last day at the mill on Wednesday. She said about 30 employees would remain at the mill indefinitely, performing tasks including records management and facility preservation.

“It’s really a standstill operation right now, at least for the near future,” Wadsworth said Thursday. “It takes a certain number of people just to finalize things, close things up, and to be on-site to take of what’s still there. There are still a lot of records there and a lot of buildings.”

Melanie Johnson said about a dozen people stood at the mill’s gates, conversing and looking at another crop of hard hats on the ground that were left by former employees.

“I was really surprised that there was not more fanfare,” she said, adding that most people had left the mill grounds by 9 a.m. “It was kind of weird.”

Wadsworth said none of the remaining employees were members of one of three unions that represented workers at the mill. Those unions are Local 505 of the United Steelworkers of America, Local 1488 of the United Steelworkers of America and Chapter 176 of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers District of Local 32BJ/SEIU.

On the shutdown itself, Wadsworth said, “I think they did a phenomenal job of managing the shutdown. The people who are there have responded extremely graciously, especially to each other. That’s been really nice to see.”

Wadsworth said Ted Lewellyn and John Rankin, who respectively serve as mill manager and resident manager, were still working at the mill. She added that a decision over the future of the plant could be forthcoming as early as this summer.

“We’re hopeful that as summer progresses we’ll have some answers for folks about where the facility is going from here,” Wadsworth said. “There’s no timeline for this. We’re just right now in the process of evaluating the options for the mill and coming up with the best possible solution for what happens in the future.”

Mark Fetherolf, who formerly represented Ward 6 on the Franklin City Council, said he was looking forward to the day that IP does something with the shuttered mill.

“It’s a sad day,” Fetherolf said of Wednesday. “We’re all going to be affected by this. But history is history, and good things are going to be coming to Franklin.”

For Edward Johnson, that good thing came Wednesday afternoon. He spent the rest of his day fishing.

“Everybody enjoyed working there,” he said. “They didn’t like IP, but they enjoyed their jobs.”